Giving back to the ‘village’ that raised him, OSU’s Isaac Likekele has plans for home after basketball | OSU Sports Supplementary
STILLWATER — Once upon a time, Deuntrey Parker had a problem with Isaac Likekele.
When Parker was the eighth-grade basketball coach at Danny Jones Middle School in Mansfield, Texas in the early 2010s, Oklahoma State’s senior guard was an eighth-grade prankster; a stubborn troublemaker whose success in class made him difficult to discipline.
“When the teachers tried to approach him, you couldn’t really tell because he was busy with his grades,” Parker said.
So Parker exercised the punishment where he could: on the basketball court. He made Likekele do laps around the gym. Kicked him out for practice. Forced him to watch games from the bench.
At one point, Likekele’s place on the Bulldogs roster is completely jeopardized. But Parker could never bring himself to kick the precocious teenager from his team.
“There was just something special about Isaac,” Parker said. “I refused to give it up”
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At the end of the season, Likekele wrote a note to the coach who believed in him despite everything. A few weeks ago, almost a decade later, the note resurfaced on Likekele’s phone.
“Coach, I want to thank you for giving me a lot of opportunities this year, for all your chances you gave me when I messed up. Even though I should have been out of the team because I got in trouble again (and) again and again. But being who you are, you gave me another chance. You’re like the male figure I look up to. Thank you Coach Parker!
This admiring and headstrong teenager arrived in Stillwater about five years later. And four years later, Likekele will have family and friends on hand Saturday for Senior Day celebrations at Gallagher-Iba Arena, when the Cowboys close their 2021-22 season at 2 p.m. against No. 12 Texas Tech.
A four-year starter at OSU, Likekele eclipsed 1,000 career points last month. His place in the program’s record books is already assured. But he enters Saturday unsure of what to expect.
Earlier this week, Likekele left the door open to returning for a fifth season next fall; “We literally didn’t think about that for a single second,” he said on Monday.
Each time he’s finished at OSU, Likekele aspires to turn professional, whether in the NBA, his G-League or overseas.
Clearer than his immediate future is Likekele’s vision for life after basketball, a path shaped by coaches like Parker and other branches of the support system that led him to Saturday’s Finals.
“I want to go back and do something for my community because I’m someone they helped raise,” Likekele said. “I know the general consensus is that I worked out and I was one in the gym. Grinding. Different things like that. But the village that it took to raise me. It really helped me a lot .
“Doing something with this community would be huge.”
One of the members of this village is Vonzell Thomas, director of Likekele’s former AAU program, Southern Assault. One night during a tournament in Las Vegas, a concerned Likekele visited Thomas’ hotel room.
Thomas had spent the summer before Likekele’s senior year of high school promoting the three-star recruit to college coaches across the country. When those coaches came to see Likekele in person in Las Vegas, he wasn’t on the floor, sidelined with an ankle injury.
Likekele feared the scholarships would disappear, but confided in his coach.
“He said, ‘I can’t take the pain. But I’m still confident. “”, recalls Thomas. “I asked him why. And he was like, ‘Because I know you have my back.'”
The family that Likekele described this week as “my backbone” also had their backs. Around OSU it is known as “Ice”. Back home with his parents Sarah and Serge and his older sisters Faith and Hope, Likekele poses as “junior”.
They’ve known about his vision for a while.
“He wants to support kids and believe in them,” Hope said. “Help them. That’s just the kind of person he is.”
Around the corner from Likekele along the way were coaches from Mansfield Timberview High School like Matt Workman and Duane Gregory. Workman described their relationship less as player and coach, and more “big brother, little brother”. Likekele credits OSU coach Mike Boynton for helping him “become the man I am today.”
“They always saw something in me,” Likekele said. “I saw that I could be anything, do anything.”
While Likekele’s vision is far from set, he has some ideas. He wants to make an impact in his two hometowns: Charlotte, North Carolina and Arlington, Texas. Coaching basketball, Likekele says, is part of his future. He eventually wants to open a community recreation center, a place where children “chill out, relax and have fun.”
“I tell people this all the time, I don’t know how, but one day I aspire to win like a humanitarian award type contract,” Likekele said. “That’s the type of lane I want to be on.”
Last month, Parker ventured into his attic and pulled Likekele’s note from a folder full of letters from former students and shared it with his former player.
“That’s crazy,” thought Likekele.
Parker and Likekele stayed in touch. Parker’s son, Deuntrey Jr., is tall for his age — like Likekele — and the 10-year-old adores the OSU veteran.
“My son looks up to him,” Parker said. “Whenever I can’t convince my son to do the right thing, I call Isaac and he talks to him.”
“He’s helped me stay more determined,” Deuntrey Jr. said. “Anytime a call or anything goes against him, he comes back and fights for it instead of complaining.”
One day, Likekele wants to go home and be the person so many others were to him. For some it has already begun.